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Innovative ways for utilities to deploy shared electric vehicle charging at multi-unit dwellings

image credit: © Kawee Wateesatogkij | Dreamstime.com

Electric vehicle sales in the U.S. are nearing 1.5 million, with significant growth recorded month over month since 2011 (see Veloz chart). At this rate, the U.S. is slated for 1.28 million EV sales in 2026 alone.

At this rapid adoption rate, over 30 million EVs will require charging infrastructure by 2030. There are a number of efforts underway to increase public charging, especially fast charging along major highway corridors by companies like Electrify America, EVgo, and Tesla. But if today is any guide, more than 80% of charging will continue to take place at home. That’s great news for homeowners since most “fueling” won’t even take a trip to a station across town; instead, they can pull into their own garage and charge up overnight.

But what about the 40% of Americans who rent or live in multi-unit dwellings (MUDs)? Most of these buildings were designed (and built) long before EVs hit the mainstream. As a result, they lack adequate electrical infrastructure for EV charging, and many retrofitting options today are simply too expensive for the owner’s or HOA’s budget.

Innovative Multi-Unit Dwelling Utility Pilots

Electric utilities across the U.S. are beginning to collaborate with innovative companies to solve the charging problem at apartments, condos, and other types of MUDs. Burlington Electric Department (BED) in Vermont is working with the peer-to-peer charging company, EVmatch, to deploy affordable hardware at various types of MUDs, including duplexes, fourplexes, 130+ unit condos, new-build apartment homes, and more. By tapping into existing WiFi networks to connect their smart chargers, MUD owners in Burlington are able to save hundreds if not thousands of dollars on networking agreements. BED’s recently launched charging program supplies free smart charging hardware ($600 value) to MUD customers and also offers $500/port rebates if MUDs share their chargers with the public from 9 AM - 5 PM Monday-Friday. The program quickly oversubscribed in a week.

Most EV charging companies have a turnkey solution, but the downside is high upfront equipment costs and recurring networking agreements that rely on expensive cellular data plans. BED’s program is unique because it takes advantage of scalable, WiFi-enabled peer-to-peer software with payment processing, booking, reservations, and grouping features, all of which increase charger utilization among tenants and the public.

The BED pilot is already accelerating EV adoption in Burlington. One of the BED customers awarded a free charger, a fourplex owner named Damon, described the benefit of his new charger in his Burlington neighborhood: “A friend who works less than two blocks from my property told me she wanted an EV and was trying to figure out how to approach the condo association where she rents about getting one. Now, she can charge at my building while she's at work.” Damon added, “I happened to mention getting the charger to my next-door neighbors, who I didn't know were nearing the end of a [car] lease and considering an EV, but ruling it out because they don't have a fixed parking spot despite being homeowners. They were thrilled to hear I was adding one and immediately changed their plans to start looking at EVs. To enable two people to buy EVs who were being thwarted is amazing when this free charger opportunity just fell in my lap.”

Why Reservations?

For those of you who drive EVs, I’m sure you can relate to this experience. In any setting, it follows a similar pattern. Maybe you show up at your workplace hoping to charge during the day so you can make your commute home. You arrive at the office to find all the chargers occupied. That’s okay, you’ll check your email and run back out to see if one has become available. Still no luck. At lunch, you look out the window to peek around the corner at the chargers. Two new cars have moved in. Meetings gobble up the afternoon, and before you know it, it’s already 4 o’clock. You run down with hopes of charging for the last hour of the day. Fortunately, one charger has become available. You gain about 25 miles of charge by 5, just enough to make it home. You pull into your garage and think, “Maybe this car isn’t right for my commute.”

Charging shouldn’t be this stressful, and it’s not hard to imagine how difficult it would be for tenants in a multi-unit dwelling to share a charger if they didn’t have a way to book and reserve them.

Why Customized Group Management?

A customized EV charging group management system is designed to enable flexibility in how site hosts manage EV charging and increase utilization. It works in any commercial setting, like college campuses, workplaces, hotels, or gyms, and allows station owners to set specific pricing and availability for different groups. For example, a co-working office can offer free charging to its members and then rent stations to the general public for a fee at specific hours.

By leveraging access codes and idle fees to ensure smooth scheduling and usage of chargers, a group management system is an ideal charging solution for MUDs.

Here are a few group management use cases:

  1. Multi-Unit Dwellings — Offer tenants free charging and charge the public for use when most tenants are away from home.
  2. Campus Charging — Offer free charging to students, faculty, and campus employees and charge the public for access on the weekends.
  3. Lodging Destinations — Offer discounted charging to guests only during their stay and charge the general public full price.
  4. Workplace Charging — Offer employees customized pricing during business hours and then open up to charger access to the general public after 5 PM.

As EV adoption increases, electric utilities are in a unique position to benefit. By offering EV charging incentive programs to increase publically-available, shared charging infrastructure at MUD properties, utilities will quickly increase EV adoption among this hard-to-serve customer segment.  This network of distributed and digitally connected EV charging stations will offer utilities flexible load growth with future demand-side management capabilities.

Heather Hochrein's picture

Thank Heather for the Post!

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Discussions

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 25, 2020 9:17 pm GMT

A really important topic if we're to get some good EV penetration going. Do you think building the multi-unit charging will be the key way out of the 'chicken and egg' standoff where so many aren't buying because they don't have ease of charging?

Heather Hochrein's picture
Heather Hochrein on Mar 26, 2020 11:47 pm GMT

Agreed. Providing reliable and affordable EV charging to renters and multi-unit dwellers will be essential to driving mainstream adoption.

Many studies have found that the optimal policy intervention to drive transportation electrification prioritizes investments in building additional charging infrastructure. In our experience at EVmatch, shared charging station instllations at multi-unit dwellings represent a high levergage opportunity to influence EV purchasing behavior directly.

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